Almost a decade after they first appeared on the market, a team of engineers has finally come up with a practical use for Roomba automatic vacuum cleaners: Roomba Pac-Man!
It’s a simple recipe: Take five Roomba vacuum cleaners, some colorful cardboard cutouts and a team from the Research and Engineering Center for Unmanned Vehicles with a little too much time on its hand, and blammo! Instant, three-dimensional Pac-Man. Controlled by a user with a wireless remote, the Pac-Man robot navigates a maze of tape on a tile floor, eating dots (bits of paper in this case) while desperately dodging the wicked machinations of Inky, Pinky, Blinky and Clyde.
The whole setup is awesome but it’s the four ghost Roombas that are especially cool. Unlike Pac-Man, they operate entirely autonomously, working their way through the maze using “internal odometry [and] an indoor positioning system.” The ghosts move through the maze until they “see” Pac-Man, at which point they switch to “chase mode” to probabilistically pursue their sworn enemy; likewise, when Pac-Man eats a power pill, all the ghosts go to “run mode,” automatically fleeing to the most distant corners of the map. (As a nice added touch, the “ghost” icons on the user interface software all turn blue during run mode.)
Believe it or not, there’s actually a point to all this screwing around: The team used the Pac-Man model as a way of demonstrating its Unmanned Aerial System software suite, a guidance system for unmanned aircraft or something. Whatever. Who cares? It’s Roomba Pac-Man!